Witchy Woman – the Fall of Eleanor Cobham, Duchess of Gloucester

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Sterborough Castle, possible birthplace of Eleanor

Born around 1400 and probably at the castle of Sterborough in Kent, Eleanor Cobham was the daughter of Sir Reginald Cobham of Sterborough and his wife Eleanor, daughter of Sir Thomas Culpeper of Rayal.

As is often the case with Medieval women, nothing is known of Eleanor’s early life. She appeared at court in her early 20s, when she was appointed lady-in-waiting to Jacqueline of Hainault,  Duchess of Gloucester.

Jacqueline had come to England to escape her 2nd husband, the abusive John IV Duke of Brabant. She obtained an annulment of the marriage from the Antipope, Benedict XIII, and married Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1423. He would spend a large amount of their marriage trying to recover Jacqueline’s lands from the Dukes of Brabant and Burgundy.

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Humphrey Duke of Gloucester

Humphrey was a younger brother of King Henry V and John, Duke of Bedford. He had fought at the Battle of Shrewsbury at the age of 12 years and 9 months and would go on to fight at Agincourt in 1415. On Henry V’s death, Humphrey acted as Regent for  his young nephew, Henry VI, whenever his older brother, the Duke of Bedford, was away fighting in France. However, he seems to have been little liked and was never trusted with full Regency powers.

In 1428 Pope Martin V refused to recognise the annulment of Jacqueline’s previous marriage to John of Brabant and declared the Gloucester marriage null and void. However, John of Brabant had died in 1426 and so Humphrey and Jacqueline were free to remarry – if they wanted to. In the mean time, Humphrey’s attention had turned to Eleanor of Cobham and he made no attempt to keep Jacqueline by his side.

This did not go down too well with the good ladies of London, who petitioned parliament between Christmas 1427 and Easter 1428.

According to the chronicler Stow their letters were delivered to Humphrey, the archbishops and the lords “containing matter of rebuke and sharpe reprehension of the Duke of Gloucester, because he would not deliver his wife Jacqueline out of her grievous imprisonment, being then held prisoner by the Duke of Burgundy, suffering her to remaine so unkindly, contrary to the law of God and the honourable estate of matrimony”.

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Coat of arms of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester

Humphrey paid the petition little attention and married Eleanor sometime between 1428 and 1431. It has been suggested that Eleanor was the mother of Humphrey’s 2 illegitimate children – Arthur and Antigone – although this seems unlikely as Humphrey made no attempt to legitimise them following the marriage (as his grandfather John of Gaunt had done with his Beaufort children by Katherine Swynford).

Described by Aeneas Sylvius as “a woman distinguished in her form” and “beautiful and marvellously pleasant” by Jean de Waurin, Eleanor and Humphrey had a small but lively court at their residence of La Plesaunce at Greenwich. Humphrey had a lifelong love of learning, which Eleanor most likely shared, and the couple attracted scholars, musicians and poets to their court.

On 25th June 1431, as Duchess of Gloucester, Eleanor was admitted to the fraternity of the monastery of St Albans – to which her husband already belonged – and in 1432 she was made a Lady of the Garter.

Eleanor’s status rose even higher in 1435, with the death of John Duke of Bedford. Whilst Henry VI was still childless, John had been heir presumptive. He died having had no children and so the position passed to Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester.

With her heightened status, Eleanor received sumptuous Christmas gifts from the king; and her father was given custody of the French hostage Charles, Duke of Orleans – a prisoner since Agincourt.

But in 1441 came Eleanor’s dramatic downfall.

Master Thomas Southwell, a canon of St Stephen’s Chapel at Westminster, and Master Roger Bolyngbroke, a scholar, astronomer and cleric – and alleged necromancer, were arrested for casting the King’s horoscope and predicting his death.

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Eleanor – alongside Humphrey – joining the confraternity of St Albans, 1431

Southwell and Bolyngbroke, along with Margery Jourdemayne, known as the Witch of Eye and renowned for selling potions and spells, were accused of making a wax image of the king, ‘the which image they dealt so with, that by their devilish incantations and sorcery they intended to bring out of life, little and little, the king’s person, as they little and little consumed that image’.

Bolyngbroke implicated Eleanor during questioning, saying she had asked him to cast her horoscope and predict her future; for the wife of the heir to the throne, this was a dangerous practise. Did she have her eye on the throne itself?

On hearing of the arrest of her associates Eleanor fled to Sanctuary at Westminster. Of 28 charges against her she admitted to 5. Eleanor denied the treason charges, but confessed to obtaining potions from Jourdemayne in order to help her conceive a child. Awaiting further proceedings, as Eleanor remained in Sanctuary, pleading sickness, she tried to escape by river. Thwarted, she was escorted to Leeds Castle on 11th August and held there for 2 months.

Having returned to Westminster Eleanor was examined by an ecclesiastical tribunal on 19th October and on the 23rd she faced Bolyngbroke, Southwell and Jourdemayne who accused her of being the “causer and doer of all these deeds”.

Eleanor was found guilty of sorcery and witchcraft; she was condemned to do public penance and perpetual imprisonment. Of her co-accused; Bolyngbroke was hanged, drawn and quartered, Southwell died in the Tower of London and Margery Jourdemayne was burned at the stake at Smithfield.

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The Penance of Eleanor by Edwin Austin Abbey

Eleanor’s own chaplain, Master John Hume, had also been arrested, although he was accused only of knowing of the others’ actions and was later pardoned.

On 3 occasions Eleanor was made to do public penance at various churches in London; on the 1st of such, 13th November 1441, bareheaded and dressed in black carrying a wax taper, she walked from Temple Bar to St Paul’s Cathedral, where she offered the wax taper at the high altar. Following 2 further penances, at Christ Church and St Michael’s in Cornhill, Eleanor was sent first to Chester Castle and then to Kenilworth. Her circumstances much reduced, Eleanor was allowed a household of only 12 persons.

Eleanor’s witchcraft conviction discredited her husband; Humphrey was marginalised and on 6th November 1441 his marriage was annulled. Humphrey’s enemies, Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI’s queen) and the Earl of Suffolk, convinced the king that his uncle was plotting against him. In February 1447, Humphrey was arrested and confined in Bury St Edmunds. He died a week later, on 23rd February; some claimed it was murder, but the most likely cause of death is stroke.

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Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

Eleanor was moved to Peel Castle on the Isle of Man, in 1446 and one final time in 1449 when she was transferred to Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey.

Eleanor Cobham, one time Duchess of Gloucester and wife to the heir to England’s throne, having risen so high – and fallen so low – died still a prisoner, at Beaumaris Castle on 7th July 1452; she was buried at Beaumaris, at the expense of Sir William Beauchamp, the castle’s constable.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; History Today Companion to British History Edited by Juliet Gardiner and Neil Wenborn; The Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens by Mike Ashley; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Oxford Companion to British History Edited by John Cannon; The Plantagenets, the Kings who made England by Dan Jones; The Plantagenets, the Kings that Made Britain by Derek Wilson; madameguillotine.co.uk; susanhigginbotham.com; The Medieval Mind.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

For King, Country and Glory – Wellington’s Officers in the Peninsular War

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Wellington at the Battle of Salamanca

Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of  Wellington is attributed with saying that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton (although he didn’t actually say it); however, the training ground for many of the officers who commanded at Waterloo was a much more hazardous school – and certainly had nothing to do with cricket.

2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The final battle in the Napoleonic Wars, Waterloo was the culmination of over 20 years of fighting. Wellington’s officers had earned their experience and reputation in Portugal and Spain, in the Peninsular War of 1807-1814, Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Spanish ulcer’.

Having risen through the ranks via the army system of purchase – where rank went to those who could buy it, rather than on merit – he was a colonel by the age of 27 and a major-general at 34. Many officers in the British army advanced this way and, although the system was flawed, it did give us the greatest British general of all time.

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Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Practical and meticulous to detail in the day-to-day army administration, Wellington was determined his officers would train their men so they could beat any force they opposed.

He was a master of the battlefield.

Generally, the officers of the Peninsular War were the ‘stiff upper lip’ types. Their letters home spoke of action and adventure, but few officers spoke of their feelings in battle.  These officers were gentlemen who desired glory and lived within a code of honour. Life in war, to them, was a grand experience and the battlefield was where glory could be achieved, if you survived it.

An officer’s life was generally better than that of the men. The officer’s had packs – or haversacks – containing rations (including a charge of rum) and spare equipment, but these were conveniently transported on carts, rather than their backs, like the common soldier.

Retreat, however, showed a less than honourable attitude of some of the officers. Some rode in carts while their men struggled to march – often barefoot. During the retreat to Corunna, in January 1809, there was an incidence of one officer climbing on the back of one of his men, so as not to get his feet wet while crossing a river. This proved a great morale booster for the men, when an even more senior officer ordered the soldier to drop his charge into the river.

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Death of Sir John Moore, Corunna 1809

It was during retreat discipline was most likely to break down. The retreat to Corunna was harrowing for the men and officers; the Spanish winter was harsh and the French were constantly nipping at the army’s heels. Officers used a mixture of encouragement and punishment to cajole the men along. Punishment was harsh; floggings and hangings were inflicted for various crimes.

The army’s discipline depended on the diligence of the regimental officers; men convicted of robber with violence or desertion were hanged, while looters and stragglers risked the lash. The chance of reprieve from punishment was dangled over regiments as a way of getting the men to fight harder when the enemy was close by.

Generals were loved, feared and admired in equal measure. ‘Black Bob’ Craufurd of the Light Brigade was seen as a harsh disciplinarian, but he looked after his men; he led them and suffered with them, marching in their midst and sharing in their miseries. General Roland Hill earned the nickname of ‘Daddy’ due to his care for his troops; his men adored him. And Sir John Moore, killed at the Battle of Corunna having brought the army safely through a harrowing retreat, was mourned deeply, his memory often invoked to encourage the men in the thick of battle.

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Battle of Talavera, 1809

Officers were expected to be brave, to lead their men from the front, wherever possible. An officer was proud to fall injured in front of the regimental colours – leading their men, rather than following. They often waxed philosophical about the “beautifully romantic and heroically sublime”¹ battlefield, while describing the piteous moans of the wounded – men and horses – and the fury of the combatants. The chivalrous sense of honour was a code; one rode straight, spoke the truth and never showed fear.

Many officers considered themselves content and happy in the military life, thinking little about the enemy, except on the few occasions when they were brought to battle. Campaign life for an officer was a combination of adventure, enjoyment and discomfort; although they were expected to lead their men, they rarely kept company with them when not on the march. Officer and soldier were billeted separately wherever possible; the coarse behaviour of the men grated on the refined officer.

If they looked after their men, however, their men would look after them. There are numerous anecdotes of soldiers trying to protect their officers from the enemy, providing their officers with food and souvenirs taken from the enemy. According to Rifleman Harris, an act of kindness from an officer had often been the cause of his life being saved in the midst of battle.

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The Siege of Badajoz, 1812

There were exceptions, of course. An area of Lisbon, known as Belem, was full of officers avoiding the fighting, who fell ill even when only within earshot of a battle. Wellington was happy for unsuitable officers to return home, or at least stay away from the army.

Of those who remained, every officer was a volunteer; they saw the military life as a way of advancement in later civilian life – or as a way to be useful to their king and country. The majority were gentlemen; although their were rare instances of officers having risen from the ranks, these failed to gain the full respect of the common soldier and were not, as a rule, successful.

To many the army was a home.  The military life was a profession, officers lived and died to “promote its honour and glory”².

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Wellington at Waterloo, 1815

And Wellington was the heart of the army, his presence inspired confidence. Even with all his ambivalence of character, he exerted an extraordinary sense of loyalty among both officers and men. Sir John Kincaid said there was “not a bosom in the army that didn’t beat more lightly, when it heard the joyful news of his arrival.”³

And it was with the confidence and experience gained from 7 years of war in the Iberian Peninsular that Wellington led his army against the French for one last time. It would be the 1st time that Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, would face Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French; at Waterloo on 18th June 1815, 200 years ago.

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Footnotes: ¹& ² A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney ; ³ Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, Sir John Kincaid, quoted by John Strawson.

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Article adapted from my own dissertation of 1992, entitled For King, Country and Glory? The British Soldier in the Peninsular War, 1808-1814.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: A Boy in the Peninsular War, Robert Blakeney; Beggars in Red: The British Army 1789-1889, John Strawson; The Recollections of Rifleman Harris, edited by Christopher Hibbert; On the Road with Wellington: The Diary of a War Commissary in the Peninsular Campaigns, August Schaumann; A British Rifleman: Journals & Correspondence during the Peninsular War and Campaign of Wellington, Major George Simmons; Memoirs of Sir Harry Smith, Sir Harry Smith; The Letters of Private Wheeler, William Wheeler; The Sword and the Pen, edited by Michael Brander; The British Soldier, JM Brereton; The Face of Battle and The Mask of Command, John Keegan; Wellington: the years of the Sword, Lady Elizabeth Longford; Soldiers. A History of Men in Battle, John Keegan and Richard Holmes.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

 

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Men of the Cross

men_largeB.R.A.G. Medallion winner, Men of the Cross by Charlene Newcomb.

“War, political intrigue and passion … heroes … friends and lovers … and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you.”

After that kind of introduction Men of the Cross had a lot to live up to. And it didn’t disappoint. Having read several Crusader novels and a few re-telling the Robin Hood legend, the idea behind the book intrigued me.

But this book has a unique perspective and stands out from the crowd.

With Richard the Lionheart and Robin Hood as supporting characters the story follows idealistic young crusader Sir Henry de Grey and his best friend, the cynical and war-jaded Sir Stephan l’Aigle, on their journey through the Third Crusade.

The two knights accompany Richard’s army from Southampton to the walls of Jerusalem – and on through the countries of Eastern Europe and Richard’s capture in Germany.

I thoroughly enjoyed Men of the Cross and found it hard to put down. The storyline is fast paced and entertaining, with all the emotions thrown into the mix: excitement, fear, love, despair, pain and happiness.

I love the way the story is interwoven with that of Robin Hood, Little John and Alan a Dale; every now and then you get a glimpse of the Merry Men they are to become, their own special camaraderie amidst the wider story.

It is a journey of discovery for Henry and Stephan – of themselves as soldiers, friends and lovers; the realities of war; fighting the Saracens; relationships; their preconceived conventions and their own hearts. Along the way they entertain queens, lose friends and risk death itself, experiencing the highs and lows of the crusading life.

After reading only the first four chapters of Men of the Cross, I found myself hoping that the rest of the book could live up to such a promising start. The main characters are well-thought out and it’s a pleasure to see them grow and mature as the story progresses, and to see how their individual experiences and feelings react to the events enfolding them.

Even the supporting characters are wonderfully vivid: the king’s sister, Joanna, and wife, Berengaria, act as spectators to the Crusade, bringing lively exchanges and the feminine touches into an all-male world.

Man against man. Man against the elements. Man against his own heart.

As I got deeper into the book, I found myself wondering how the author would handle the grisly realities of the Third Crusade. When following the Lionheart through the Holy Land, it is impossible to ignore the mass execution of 3,000 Muslim prisoners. So how would Ms. Newcomb handle it?

This turned out to be one of my favourite scenes in the book. Instead of concentrating on one beheading after another, you saw it through the eyes of Sir Henry, as a pivotal moment in his initiation into the realities and horrors of war:

Henry’s stomach knotted, his thoughts filled with despair. This is war?”

His doubts demonstrated through his own internal dialogue and response to his distaste:

You know nothing of war.” 

Charlene Newcomb has a knack of setting scenes so vividly you can almost hear the swing of sword through air, the yells and screams of victims and combatants alike and the anguish of a knight discovering that chivalry has little place in war. The battles are urgent and hectic – their descriptions give the combined sense of the confusion, fear and exhilaration of the participants.

The background scenes are described in fantastic detail. Whether it is the noises and odours of the busy port, the bustling streets of Messina or Acre, or the calm and splendour of a royal palace, it is easy to imagine yourself transported.

The love scenes are artfully and sensitively portrayed – with the anguish and uncertainty of a blossoming relationship cleverly interweaved into the storyline.

Henry and Stephan’s friendship, love and loyalty are tested to their very limits in this wonderful novel.

The long and winding journey of the Lionheart’s crusade, from its launch to his imprisonment in Germany, is skilfully re-told in such a way that you will feel the highs and lows – the joys and desperations – and the excitement of two young men learning the art of war, love and friendship through their experiences.

I look forward to reading how the characters develop in the next instalment, to hearing how they rescue the king from his German prison, and of the further adventures of Henry and Stephan and – of course – Robin Hood and his men.

 

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Article originally published at The Review in June 2015.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Eternal Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta

Today – June 15th 2015 – is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta.

On 1 April 2015 Lincoln Castle reopened its doors after an extensive refurbishment. The renovations included a new purpose-built, state-of-the-art, underground vault for its most prized possession: one of only four surviving copies of the original 1215 Great Charter – the Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta’s new home cannot fail to emphasise the importance of this charter in the history of not only England, but also the rest of the world. Two films – Magna Carta: Challenging the Power of the King and Magna Carta: Meaning and Myth – reconstruct the events leading up to Magna Carta and chart its significance through the centuries, respectively.

But what is Magna Carta? And what makes it so important?

n many ways, the reign of King John had been a continuation of that of his father, Henry II, and of his brother, Richard I, with one significant difference. Early in his reign John had lost the French part of the great Angevin empire: Normandy and Aquitaine were now held by France. In 1214 King John returned to England following his defeat by the French at the Battle of Bouvines. The battle ended the king’s hopes of regaining the lost empire.

Added to this catastrophe was the character and personality of John himself. By nature John was paranoid, secretive and distrustful. John’s cruelty is widely known. He is accused of killing his nephew and rival claimant to the English throne, Arthur of Brittany; he hanged 28 Welsh hostages (sons of rebel chieftains) and he hounded William de Braose and his family all the way to Ireland and back. De Braose’s wife and son died in one of John’s prisons, probably from starvation.

The History of William Marshal, a biography of the great knight and statesman, states of John: ‘He kept his prisoners in such a horrible manner, and in such abject confinement that it seemed an indignity and a disgrace to all those with him who witnessed such cruelty’.

Although John faced the fallout of Magna Carta, many of the injustices targeted by the barons can be seen in the reigns of his predecessors. Heavy taxes, arbitrary fines and the exploitation of wardships were long-established royal revenue earners. However, where Henry and Richard had a whole empire to exploit, John’s need for money had to be met by England alone.

Even John’s disagreement with the Church can see parallels in the reign of Henry II and his clashes with Thomas Becket. John opposed the election of Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury, and refused to allow his consecration. Pope Innocent III went so far as to excommunicate John and place England under interdict; in 1213 Philip II of France was even invited to depose him.

John finally came to an agreement with the Church in May 1213, swearing that the liberties established under Henry I would be strictly observed and allowing Langton to take up his post as archbishop. However, John broke his oath almost immediately and Langton became one of the leaders of the opposition to the king.

The barons’ objections to John were almost beyond number. He had failed to face the French and had lost not only his family’s Continental possessions, but also those of his barons. Few had forgotten his treachery against his brother – his attempt on the throne whilst Richard was away on Crusade. His barons even complained that he forced himself on their wives and daughters.

The barons had had enough.

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Lincoln Cathedral

The rebels were ready to fight. After occupying London they made one final attempt to prevent war, presenting the king with a list of their demands.

Following further negotiations a long detailed document was produced, dealing with particular grievances of the time and with injustices in general. It touched on the whole system of royal government. And it was granted to ‘all free men of the realm and their heirs forever’.

Magna Carta

Of its 63 clauses, some terms were asking for immediate remedies, such as the removal of corrupt administrators and the sending home of foreign mercenaries. The clause stating that fighting outside of the kingdom could not be imposed by the king was a reaction to John’s recent attempts to force his English barons to help him recover his Continental domains.

Others had long-term aims. The document sought to guarantee the privileges of the Church and the City of London. Restrictions were placed on the powers of regional officials, such as sheriffs, to prevent abuses. The royal court was fixed at Westminster, for justice to be obtainable by all, and royal judges were to visit each county regularly. Taxes could no longer be levied without the consent of the Church and the barons.

Clauses included the fixing of inheritance charges and protection from exploitation for under-age heirs; the king was to take only what was reasonable from an estate (although ‘reasonable’ remained undefined). From henceforth a widow was to be free to choose whether or not to remarry and her marriage portion (dowry) would be made available to her immediately on her husband’s death. Another clause sought to prevent the seizure of land from Jews and the king’s debtors.

Magna Carta even went so far as to regulate weights and measures. It also reduced the size of the king’s forests and limited the powers of forest justices.

Although most of the 63 clauses of Magna Carta are now defunct, three still remain as major tenets of British law, including ‘to no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice’. That no person could be imprisoned, outlawed or deprived of his lands except by judgement of his peers and the law of the land has remained the cornerstone of the English legal system ever since.

Magna Carta was sealed at Runnymede, Berkshire, on 15 June 1215. John ordered that the charter be circulated around the towns and villages.

As a peace agreement between King John and his rebellious barons, however, it failed miserably. By July John was appealing to the Pope for help. Pope Innocent III’s response arrived in England in September. The treaty was declared null and void; it was ‘not only shameful and demeaning but also illegal and unjust’. By the time the letter arrived in England, the dispute had already erupted into the Barons’ War.

Deciding they could no longer deal with John’s perfidy, the rebel barons invited the King of France, Philip II, to claim the throne. Philip’s son and heir, the future Louis VIII, accepted the offer. Having landed on the south coast, he marched for London, where he was proclaimed King of England on 2 June 1216.

John’s fortuitous death at Newark in October 1216 turned the tide against Louis and the rebels. The highly respected knight and statesman, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, was appointed regent for John’s nine-year-old son, Henry III. Marshal’s staunch loyalty was renowned throughout Europe; he was the embodiment of the chivalric code. Many barons who had previously sided with Louis saw the opportunity to come back from the brink, and rally around the young king. Marshal reissued Magna Carta and faced and defeated the joint French and rebel army at Lincoln on 20 May 1217.

Afterwards, the English were able to dictate peace terms to Louis, and the French went home. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new Forest Charter (also on display at Lincoln Castle). Its reissue in 1225, on Henry III attaining his majority, is the one that made it onto the statute books.

The Legacy of Magna Carta

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Lincoln Castle

It is hard to overstate the enduring significance of Magna Carta. Although it was initially a document conceived by rebel barons, the regents of Henry III exploited Magna Carta as a royalist device to recover the loyalty of the rebel barons. However, once it was issued it was used as a curb to all regal excesses. In 1265 it was invoked to create the first parliament.

By the late 1200s Magna Carta was regarded as a fundamental statement of English liberties.

Magna Carta set the precedent for future reform programmes, such as the Provisions of Oxford of 1258, the Ordinances of 1311, the Petition of Right of 1628 and the Grand Remonstrance of 1641.

The influence of Magna Carta has spread far beyond England’s shores. It can be seen in the United States’ 1791 Bill of Rights, in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights.

Although a failure in the short term, in the long term, Magna Carta established defined limitations to royal rights, laying down that standard to be observed by the crown and its agents.

It is the closest thing England has to a Constitution.

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Article and Photos © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015

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Article originally published on The Review in June 2015.

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Sources: Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; The Plantagenet Chronicle Edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Nicholaa de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

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View, from the castle. of Lincoln Cathedral

Nicholaa de la Haye is one of those very rare women in English history. She is renowned for her abilities, rather than her family and connections. In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in history.

The eldest daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la Haye and his wife, Matilda de Verdun, she was probably  born in the early 1150s. Richard de la Haye was a minor Lincolnshire lord; in 1166 he was recorded as owing 20 knights’ fees, which had been reduced to 16 by 1172. When he died in 1169, Nicholaa inherited her father’s land in Lincolnshire and his position as castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position she would hold for over 30 years.

Nicholaa was married twice, her first husband, William Fitz Erneis, died in 1178. Before 1185 she married Gerard de Camville, son of Richard de Camville, admiral of Richard I’s crusading fleet during the 3rd Crusade. Although her first marriage was probably childless, Nicholaa and Gerard had at least 3 children; Richard, Thomas and Matilda.

Nicholaa’s husbands each claimed the position of castellan of Lincoln Castle by right of his wife; but Nicholaa seems to have been far from the normal subservient wife. When her husband was not in the castle, she was left in charge rather than an alternative, male deputy.

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Lincoln castle walls

Nicholaa first comes to the attention of the chroniclers in 1191, when Prince John made a play for his brother Richard’s throne. Gerard de Camville was a supporter of John and joined him at Nottingham Castle, leaving Nicholaa to hold Lincoln. Richard I’s Chancellor, William Longchamps had headed north to halt John’s coup and laid siege to Lincoln Castle.

The formidable Nicholaa refused to yield, holding out for 40 days before Longchamps raised the siege following the fall of the castles at Tickhill and Nottingham. Amusingly, Richard of Devizes said of this defence of Lincoln Castle, that she did it ‘without thinking of anything womanly’.

In 1194, on the king’s return, Camville was stripped of his positions as Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Castellan of the castle; only having it returned to him on the accession of King John in 1199.

Gerard de Camville died around 1215 and, although now a widow, it seems the castle remained in Nicholaa’s hands. On one of King John’s visits to inspect the castle’s defences in either 1215 or 1216 there was a rather dramatic display of fealty from Nicholaa :

And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nicholaa went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, “My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise”.¹

As we all know, King John’s reign wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. He lost his French lands and was held to account by the barons of England for  numerous examples of maladministration, corruption and  outright murder. In 1215 he had been forced to seal the Magna Carta in order to avoid war. Although it eventually came to be considered a fundamental statement of English liberties, as a peace treaty Magna Carta failed miserably. Within months John had written to Pope Innocent III and the charter had been declared null and void; the barons were up in arms.

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The West Gate, through which part of William Marshal’s relieving force entered Lincoln Castle

The rebels invited the king of France to take the throne of England; instead Philip II’s son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. In the same year Nicholaa prevented another siege by paying off a rebel army, led by Gilbert de Gant, who had occupied the city of Lincoln.

As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John made an inspection of Lincoln castle in September 1216. During the visit Nicholaa de la Haye, who held the castle for John, even though the city supported the rebels, was appointed Sheriff of Lincolnshire in her own right.

Moving south, just 2 weeks later, the king’s baggage train was lost as he crossed the Wash estuary and within a few more days John was desperately ill.

King John died at Newark on 19th October 1216, with half his country occupied by a foreign invader and his throne now occupied by his 9-year-old son, Henry III. The elder statesman and notable soldier William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke was appointed Regent and set out to save the kingdom.

Meanwhile, Louis’ forces, under the Comte du Perche, headed north and, in early 1217, took the City of Lincoln and laid siege to the castle with a small force. Now in her 60s Nicholaa de la Haye took charge of the defences. Prince Louis  personally travelled up to Lincoln to ask for her surrender, assuring her no one would be hurt, but Nicholaa refused.

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The Battle of Lincoln, 1217

When the small force proved insufficient to force a surrender, the French had to send for reinforcements. For almost 3 months – from March to mid-May – siege machinery bombarded the south and east walls of the castle. On the 20th May William Marshal arrived, from the north-west, with a relieving force. Having taken the North Gate of the city walls, his army proceeded to attack the besieging forces and routed the enemy; the enemy’s commander, the Comte du Perche, was killed in the fighting.

The city, which had supported the rebels and welcomed the French, was sacked and looted by the victorious army; the battle becoming known as the Lincoln Fair, as a result.

The Battle of Lincoln turned the tide of the war. The French were forced to seek peace and returned home. Magna Carta was reissued and Henry III’s regents could set about healing the country.

In a magnificent demonstration of ingratitude, within 4 days of the relief of the Castle, Nicholaa’s position of Sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to the king’s uncle William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury, who took control of the city and seized the castle.

Not one to give up easily Nicholaa travelled to court to remind the king’s regents of her services, and request her rights be restored to her. A compromise was reached whereby Salisbury remained as Sheriff of the County, while Nicholaa held the city and the castle.

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Magna Carta

Nicholaa’s granddaughter and heiress, Idonea – daughter of Nicholaa’s eldest son Richard – was married to Salisbury’s son, William II Longspée; the couple inherited the de la Haye and Camville lands on Nicholaa’s death. The settlement was not ideal, however, and some wrangling seems to have continued until Salisbury’s death in 1226.

A staunchly independent woman, she issued some 25 surviving charters in her name. She made grants to various religious houses, including Lincoln Cathedral, and even secured a royal grant for a weekly market on one of her properties.

A most able adversary for some of the greatest military minds of the time, and a loyal supporter of King John, she was unique among her peers. Although praised by the chroniclers, they seemed to find difficulty in describing a woman who acted in such a fashion;  the Dunstable annals refer to her as a ‘noble woman’, saying she acted ‘manfully’. One cannot fail to feel admiration for a woman who managed to hold her own in a man’s world, who fought for her castle and her home in a time when women had so little say over their own lives – and at such an advanced age. Her bravery and tenacity saved Henry III’s throne.

Not surprisingly, Henry III referred to her as ‘our beloved and faithful Nicholaa de la Haye’.

Nicholaa de la Haye, the woman who saved England, lived well into her 70s. By late 1226 she had retired to her manor at Swaton, dying there in 1230. She was buried in St Michael’s Church, Swaton in Lincolnshire.

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Footnote: ¹Irene Gladwin: The Sheriff; The Man and His Office

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Photos of Lincoln Castle, copyright Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015.

Picture of the Battle of Lincoln and Magna Carta are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Sources: The Plantagenet Chronicles edited by Elizabeth Hallam; Brassey’s Battles by John Laffin; 1215 The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger & John Gillingham; The Life and times of King John by Maurice Ashley; The Story of Britain by Roy Strong; The Plantagenets, the Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings  by Robert Bartlett; lincolnshirelife.co.uk; catherinehanley.co.uk; magnacarta800th.com; lothene.org; lincolncastle.com; The Sheriff: The Man and His Office by Irene Gladwin; Elizabeth Chadwick; Nick Buckingham; swaton.org.uk.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Love, Adultery and a Fake Kidnapping? The story of Isabel de Vermandois

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Adelaide de Vermandois, mother of Isabel

Born around 1085, Isabel de Vermandois had the blood of kings flowing through her veins. Her father was Hugh Capet, younger son of King Henry I of France. Her mother was Adelaide de Vermandois, a descendant of the ancient Carolingian dynasty. She was 1 of her parents’ 9 surviving children; 4 boys and 5 girls.

As with many medieval women, there are no images of Isabel; not even a description of her appearance. Her life can be pieced together, somewhat, through her marriages and through her children. When researching her, her name also frequently appears as Elizabeth – Isabel being the French version of her name.

From her birth, as the granddaughter of the King of France, Isabel was a valuable prize. Her childhood proved to be  depressingly short. By 1096 a marriage was mooted between Isabel and Robert de Beaumont, Count of Meulan, who was 35 years her senior.

Robert de Beaumont was a seasoned warrior and courtier, with lands in both England and Normandy. He had fought alongside William the conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and was with William II Rufus when he was killed in a hunting accident in the New Forest. A loyal supporter of Henry I, he would fight for his king at the Battle of Tinchebrai in 1106, and receive the earldom of Leicester in 1107.

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Hugh I, Count of Vermandois

The marriage was originally opposed by the church; the prospective couple were related within the prohibited degrees and Isabel was not yet at the minimum legal age to marry – 12. Before leaving on Crusade, however, Isabel’s father was able to persuade Pope Urban to issue a dispensation and the marriage went ahead in 1096.

Isabel was around 11 years old, Robert de Beaumont was about 46.

Isabel gave Robert 9 children; the first was a daughter, Emma, born in 1102. Twin boys followed in 1104; Waleran and Robert de Beaumont, earls of Worcester and Leicester, respectively. The brothers were active supporters of King Stephen during the conflict with Empress Matilda, popularly known as the Anarchy, but while Robert would come to terms with Matilda’s son, the future Henry II, in 1153, Waleran was distrusted due to his support of Louis VII of France.

Another daughter, Isabel, was a mistress of Henry I before being married to Gilbert de Clare, 1st Earl of Pembroke. Through her son Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, she would be the grandmother of Isabel de Clare, wife of the great knight and Regent for Henry III, William Marshal.

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Arms of Isabel de Vermandois assumed by William de Warenne following their marriage.

Isabel’s marriage to Robert de Beaumont seems to have ended in scandal and controversy. The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon reported that she was seduced by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, suggesting they had a love affair, which lasted for several years. It’s hard to blame a young woman of 30, in an arranged marriage to a man more than twice her age, for looking elsewhere for love and comfort.

William de Warenne had failed, in 1093, to obtain a royal bride for himself in a match with Matilda of Scotland (she went on to marry Henry I), and so looked elsewhere for a bride. It seems that de Warenne hatched a plot to kidnap Isabel – possibly with her approval – after de Beaumont refused to grant his wife a divorce. Huntingdon has the aged warrior dying of shame following his wife’s betrayal.

Whether the story is true, or not, is highly questionable, but great for the novelists. However, Robert de Beaumont died soon after, on 5th June 1118, and William and Isabel married as soon as they could.

William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey, had a chequered career. He had succeeded his father in 1088, but was disinherited by Henry I for his support of Henry’s brother Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, in his attempt on the English throne. De Warenne was restored to favour in 1103 and thereafter remained loyal. He would be one of the earls present at Henry I’s death on 1st December 1135 at Lyons-la-Foret.

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Castle Acre, residence of the Earls of Surrey

On his marriage to Isabel, William assumed the Vermandois coat of arms as his own and the blue and yellow checks became known as the ‘Warenne chequer’.

Isabel and William had several children; their son and heir, William, the future 3rd earl was born in 1119. He would die on Crusade in January 1148 at Laodicea in Turkey whilst fighting in the elite royal guard of King Louis VII of France. His only child, a daughter, Isabel, became the greatest heiress in England.

Another 2 sons followed, Ralph and Rainald, and 2 daughters. Gundreda married Roger de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick and Ada married Henry Earl of Huntingdon, son and heir of David I of Scotland. Two of Ada’s sons became kings of Scotland; Malcolm IV and William the Lion.

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Lewes Priory, final resting place of Isabel de Vermandois, Countess of Leicester and Surrey

Isabel’s 2 families seem to have got on quite well. Not only did Gundreda de Warenne marry a  cousin of her de Beaumont siblings, but William de Warenne also had both his son and step son with him when he attended Henry I on his deathbed.

Although her life was tinged with scandal, Isabel of Vermandois has had a great influence on the history of England and Scotland. From her are descended the greatest families of England and all subsequent Scottish monarchs.

William de Warenne died in 1138; he was buried at his father’s feet at Lewes Priory. Isabel survived him by almost 10 years, dying around 1147/8. She was also buried at Lewes Priory, near to her husband.

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia

Sources: Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne, Edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay; England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings by Robert Batlett; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; british-history.ac.uk; kristiedean.com; knight-france.com.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly